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About gynocentrism

Gynocentrism n. (Greek, γυνή, “female” – Latin centrum, “centred” ) refers to a dominant or exclusive focus on women in theory or practice; or to the advocacy of this.1 Anything can be considered gynocentric (Adj.) when it is concerned exclusively with a female (or specifically a feminist) point of view.2

[see here for more dictionary definitions of gynocentrism]

Introduction

Modern gynocentrism is facilitated by three interrelated pressures, the first biological and the subsequent two being cultural developments:

Gynocentrism 1:0 refers to basic instinctual behavior inherited from our hominid ancestors for prioritizing female reproductive capacity; that is, we tend to protect and provide for women and children as a way to encourage survival of our species, a tendency reinforced by varying local customs throughout history until the Middle Ages, when a confluence of cultural factors came together to create gynocentrism 2:0 →

Gynocentrism 2:0 – refers to a cultural intensification of the gynocentric tendency, arising in Medieval Europe during a period cross-cultural influences and momentous changes in gendered customs. Beginning in around the 12th century European society birthed an intersection of Arabic practices of female worship, aristocratic courting trends, the Marian cult, along with the imperial patronage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie De Champagne who together elaborated the military notion of chivalry into a notion of servicing ladies, a practice otherwise known as ‘courtly love.’

Courtly love was enacted by minstrels, playrights and troubadours, and especially via hired romance-writers like Chrétien de Troyes and Andreas Capellanus who laid down a model of romantic fiction that is still the biggest grossing genre of literature today. That confluence of factors generated the cultural conventions that continue to drive gynocentrism today, which was consolidated by one significant further development →

Gynocentrism 3:0, which refers to the developed economy with service industry where women can enter labour force and gain financial independence from men, which (1) creates demand for more rights vis-a-vis men because there is no longer a trade-off as in traditional relationships, and (2) renders women free to pursue increasing degrees of relational status as desired. These factors, in combination with the contraceptive pill, have given gynocentrism increased motility.3

Gynocentrism as a cultural phenomenon

The primary elements of gynocentric culture, as we experience it today, are derived from practices originating in medieval society such as feudalism, chivalry and courtly love that continue to inform contemporary society in subtle ways. Such gynocentric patters constitute a “sexual feudalism,” as attested by female writers like Lucrezia Marinella who in 1600 AD recounted that women of lower socioeconomic classes were treated as superiors by men who acted as servants or beasts born to serve them, or by Modesta Pozzo who in 1590 wrote;

“don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us — they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.”4

The golden casket above depicting scenes of servile behaviour toward women were typical of courtly love culture of the Middle Ages. Such objects were given to women as gifts by men seeking to impress. Note the woman standing with hands on hips in a position of authority, and the man being led around by a neck halter, his hands clasped in a position of subservience.

It’s clear that much of what we today call gynocentrism was invented in the Middle Ages with the cultural practices of romantic chivalry and courtly love. In 12th century Europe, feudalism served as the basis for a new model for love in which men were to play the role of vassal to women who played the role of an idealized Lord.

C.S. Lewis, back in the middle of the 20th Century, referred to this historical revolution as “the feudalisation of love,” and stated that it has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched. “Compared with this revolution,” states Lewis, “the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature.”5 Lewis further states;

“Everyone has heard of courtly love, and everyone knows it appeared quite suddenly at the end of the eleventh century at Languedoc. The sentiment, of course, is love, but love of a highly specialized sort, whose characteristics may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy, and the Religion of Love. The lover is always abject. Obedience to his lady’s lightest wish, however whimsical, and silent acquiescence in her rebukes, however unjust, are the only virtues he dares to claim. Here is a service of love closely modelled on the service which a feudal vassal owes to his lord. The lover is the lady’s ‘man’. He addresses her as midons, which etymologically represents not ‘my lady’ but ‘my lord’. The whole attitude has been rightly described as ‘a feudalisation of love’. This solemn amatory ritual is felt to be part and parcel of the courtly life.” 6

With the advent of (initially courtly) women being elevated to the position of ‘Lord’ in intimate relationships, and with this general sentiment diffusing to the masses and across much of the world today, we are justified in talking of a gynocentric cultural complex that affects, among other things, relationships between men and women. Further, unless evidence of widespread gynocentric culture can be found prior to the Middle Ages, then  gynocentrism is precisely 800 years old. In order to determine if this thesis is valid we need to look further at what we mean by “gynocentrism”.

The term gynocentrism has been in circulation since the 1800’s, with the general definition being “focused on women; concerned with only women.” 7 From this definition we see that gynocentrism could refer to any female-centered practice, or to a single gynocentric act carried out by one individual. There is nothing inherently wrong with a gynocentric act (eg. celebrating Mother’s Day) , or for that matter an androcentric act (celebrating Father’s Day). However when a given act becomes instituted in the culture to the exclusion of other acts we are then dealing with a hegemonic custom — i.e. such is the relationship custom of elevating women to the position of men’s social, moral or spiritual superiors.

Author of Gynocentrism Theory Adam Kostakis has attempted to expand the definition of gynocentrism to refer to “male sacrifice for the benefit of women” and “the deference of men to women,” and he concludes; “Gynocentrism, whether it went by the name honor, nobility, chivalry, or feminism, its essence has gone unchanged. It remains a peculiarly male duty to help the women onto the lifeboats, while the men themselves face a certain and icy death.” 8

While we can agree with Kostakis’ descriptions of assumed male duty, the phrase gynocentric culture more accurately carries his intention than gynocentrism alone. Thus when used alone in the context of this website gynocentrism refers to part or all of gynocentric culture, which is defined here as any culture instituting rules for gender relationships that benefit females at the expense of males across a broad range of measures.

At the base of gynocentric culture lies the practice of enforced male sacrifice for the benefit of women. If we accept this definition we must look back and ask whether male sacrifices throughout history were always made for the sake women, or alternatively for the sake of some other primary goal? For instance, when men went to die in vast numbers in wars, was it for women, or was it rather for Man, King, God and Country? If the latter we cannot then claim that this was a result of some intentional gynocentric culture, at least not in the way I have defined it here. If the sacrifice isn’t intended directly for the benefit women, even if women were occasional beneficiaries of male sacrifice, then we are not dealing with gynocentric culture.

Male utility and disposability strictly “for the benefit of women” comes in strongly only after the advent of the 12th century gender revolution in Europe – a revolution that delivered us terms like gallantry, chivalry, chivalric love, courtesy, damsels, romance and so on. From that period onward gynocentric practices grew exponentially, culminating in the demands of today’s feminist movement. In sum, gynocentrism (ie. gynocentric culture) was a patchy phenomenon at best before the middle ages, after which it became ubiquitous.

With this in mind it makes little sense to talk of gynocentric culture starting with the industrial revolution a mere 200 years ago (or 100 or even 30 yrs ago), or of it being two million years old as some would argue. We are not only fighting two million years of genetic programming; our culturally constructed problem of gender inequity is much simpler to pinpoint and to potentially reverse. All we need do is look at the circumstances under which gynocentric culture first began to flourish and attempt to reverse those circumstances. Specifically, that means rejecting the illusions of romantic love (feudalised love), along with the practices of misandry, male shaming and servitude that ultimately support it.

La Querelle des Femmes, and advocacy for women

The Querelle des Femmes translates as the “quarrel about women” and amounts to what we might today call a gender-war. The querelle had its beginning in twelfth century Europe and finds its culmination in the feminist-driven ideology of today (though some authors claim, unconvincingly, that the querelle came to an end in the 1700s). The basic theme of the centuries-long quarrel revolved, and continues to revolve, around advocacy for the rights, power and status of women, and thus Querelle des Femmes serves as the originating title for gynocentric discourse.

If we consider the longevity of this revolution we might be inclined to agree with Barbarossaaa’s claim “that feminism is a perpetual advocacy machine for women”.

To place the above events into a coherent timeline, chivalric servitude toward women was elaborated and given patronage first under the reign of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1137-1152) and instituted culturally throughout Europe over the subsequent 200 year period. After becoming thus entrenched on European soil there arose the Querelle des Femmes which refers to the advocacy culture that arose for protecting, perpetuating and increasing female power in relation to men that continues, in an unbroken tradition, in the efforts of contemporary feminism.9

Writings from the Middle Ages forward are full of testaments about men attempting to adapt to the feudalisation of love and the serving of women, along with the emotional agony, shame and sometimes physical violence they suffered in the process. Gynocentric chivalry and the associated querelle have not received much elaboration in men’s studies courses to-date, but with the emergence of new manuscripts and quality English translations it may be profitable to begin blazing this trail.10

References

1. Oxford English Dictionary – Vers.4.0 (2009), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199563838
2. Oxford English Dictionary 2010
3. Three points elaborated during online conversation with Snir, October 2016
4. Modesta Pozzo, The Worth of Women: their Nobility and Superiority to Men
5. C.S. Lewis, Friendship, chapter in The Four Loves, HarperCollins, 1960
6. C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, Oxford University Press, 1936
7. Dictionary.com – Gynocentric
8. Adam Kostakis, Gynocentrism Theory – (Published online, 2011). Although Kostakis assumes gynocentrism has been around throughout recorded history, he singles out the Middle Ages for comment: “There is an enormous amount of continuity between the chivalric class code which arose in the Middle Ages and modern feminism… One could say that they are the same entity, which now exists in a more mature form – certainly, we are not dealing with two separate creatures.”
9. Joan Kelly, Early Feminist Theory and the Querelle des Femmes (1982), reprinted in Women, History and Theory, UCP (1984)
10. The New Male Studies Journal has published thoughtful articles touching on the history and influence of chivalry in the lives of males.

Can a woman be chivalrous?

Chivalry is today seen as a mostly male obligation toward female beneficiaries. In the past there were exceptions showing that “chivalry” could be applied equally to women who demonstrated it.

Stripped of the usual gender conventions, romantic chivalry is nothing more than displays of altruism and generosity toward another human being. The sooner women start extending such “chivalry” toward men and boys, and calling it “chivalry,” the sooner we might call relationships reciprocal. Until then we will continue to see male-only chivalry by workers on the gynocentric plantation.

A few examples of ‘female chivalry’ follow, with dates:

Female chivalry

1792 “Mr. Burke remarked, that however the spirit of chivalry may be in the decline amongst men, the age of female chivalry was just commencing.”

1918 “Spenser, following Ariosto, laments the decay of female chivalry since the days of Penthesilia, Deborah, and Camilla.”

1938 “This tendency among women of making concessions to men for their inferior moral strength I would like to term “female chivalry.” It is chivalry in the strictest sense of the term because it makes concessions for the weakness of the opposite side. In a society which is so primitive that its women have not yet developed in their conduct with men this moral chivalry, no doubt the woman is an inferior and subordinate member, an object of masculine pity. But the moment she brings into play upon the field of our social behaviour her superior moral strength (manifested through the developments of her inherent powers of sacrifice, endurance and self-discipline) she not only qualifies herself for equality of treatment but records a moral victory of first magnitude over the opposite sex.”

Woman’s chivalry

1847  “It may be, too, that such pursuits belong to woman’s chivalry, in which she accomplishes tender victories, and with silken cords leads into bondage the stouter heart of man. Happy triumph: in which there is equal delight to the victor and the vanquished.”

1924 “There are poems of the human soul cut off from God by its loveleasness — the hell of separation of the finite self from the infinite; poems of the “white flame” of a greater love; woman’s chivalry towards woman ; woman’s chivalry towards man: and in the end, peace.”

1936 “Neuilly, but something — perhaps a woman’s chivalry to another woman — prevented her from doing it.”

Chivalric female

1864 “The order of Sisters of Charity, therefore, as constituted by St. Vincent de Paul, and whose deeds are known to the whole world, may be considered an aristocratic or chivalric female army of volunteers of charity, bound to short terms of service, but generally renewing their vows, and performing prodigies of usefulness.”

Chivalrous women

1857 “It must be confessed that the spectacle of those three chivalrous women, so magnanimous in face of an evil cause… preparing to plunge into the medley of battle, instead of remaining at a distance to watch the fortune of the fray, instead too of shutting themselves up in some luxurious dwelling there to await the intelligence of the result – but armed and mounted – with martial plumes waving over their heads, fire in their eyes and decision on their lips… could have no other effect than the most inspiring one over those who beheld it.”

1896 “For a lady is among other things a woman with a sense of chivalry, and a chivalrous woman uses her finer gifts to supplement the blunt honesty of her husband (if she is the happy possessor of an honest husband).”

1904 “The self-sacrificing chivalrous woman, with whom duty is a first consideration.”

1906 “Those chivalrous Women seem to be chosen instruments for the world’s betterment—all in the general economy of nature — evidence of growth which sometimes takes us by surprise and makes us sit up and think.”

1912 “Yes — women can he chivalrous! — women can live and die for a conviction! My terrible confession is made easier by your belief!”

1918to the free and chivalrous women of America.”

1919 “they called upon the free and chivalrous women of America to make these wrongs their own and, in so far as possible, to try to redress them, and to safeguard the future of the race by standing for the independence of historic Armenia.”

1920 “This mighty work of hospital redemption, now so nearly accomplished in all civilized countries, so appealed to chivalrous women that there seemed no end to the stream of incoming probationers.”

Chivalric woman

1897 “We are glad to know that such a noble and chivalric woman has her being among the toilers of the overwrought East End, and trust that her good deeds have not gone unrewarded.”

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We live in a time now of great convenience, and if relationships are to mean anything going forward they will need to be based on some kind of reciprocal chivalry. And the good news is that men and women can demonstrate their brands of chivalry differently if they wish…. a ‘co-chivalry’ that can be respectful of similarities or differences as agreed between individual men and women.

60% readers of romance novels consider themselves ‘feminist’

According to polls only 18% of U.S. women consider themselves feminist, however a whopping 60% of readers of romantic love fiction consider themselves feminist.

2015-05-05-1430841078-9909489-romancenovelreader1

As detailed elsewhere on this website, this finding suggests a complicity between contemporary feminist aspirations and the courting trope first manufactured in medieval Europe.

Source:
[1] The above info-graphic was compiled from a survey of 800 people and published in  Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained. The author adds this comment on the feminist question:
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The Greek Titans: Images of Chaos

The following excerpt from Rafael Lopez-Pedraza’s excellent book Cultural Anxiety explores the mythical Greek ‘Titans’ as archetypal image of both pre- and post-modern chaos.

Lopez-Pedraza explains that archetypal forms – Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Demeter etc. – are exactly that, formed archetypal patterns. The Titans on the other hand are rough amalgams, poorly formed and shape-shifting entities who thrive in chaos and destruction. The image of the Titan exemplifies the postmodern chaos currently being unleashed on Western cultures. – PW.

[click on images to enlarge]

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Below is the animation The Battle for Mount Olympus, a powerful portrayal of the battle between the archetypal Gods & Heroes and the Titans, capturing in symbolic form our present cultural dilemma.

See also: Hera, Ancient Greek goddess of… feminism?

A brief critique of Jordan Peterson’s use of “Jungian” sources

The following thoughts on Jordan Peterson’s use of Jungian material was made at AVfM in response to a comment from Bora Bosna saying, “The cult of Peterson continues to grow.” While I generally appreciate Peterson’s thinking, and wish him well with his work and growing audience, I take issue with some of the intellectual source material he uses to build his arguments. – PW

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“The cult of Peterson continues to grow.”

Surprising seeings he approaches his material via Classical Jungianism which is basically Jung and his immediate followers’ theories, much of which is formulaic, theoretically lame and debunked – though some of it good too. Unfortunately Peterson champions some of the lame stuff – eg. the writings of Erich Neumann, whose theories and writings (The Great Mother, and Origins and History of Consciousness,) have been thoroughly demolished by later, more rigorous Jungian thinkers.

There are two other schools of Jungianism that arose out of the classical school – the ‘Developmental School’ which blends psychoanalysis with Jungianism, and the ‘Archetypal School’ started by James Hillman who was the first Director of the first Jung Institute in Zurich. Hillman dreamed the movement forward, applying Occam’s razor to all the crap of the classical school and taking the really good stuff to another philosophical level.

Following the classical school is Peterson’s Achillies heel…. some of his presentations will not be taken seriously by the most brilliant in the Jungian field, even if students are starry-eyed. For example Peterson buys Neumann’s incredibly gynocentric thesis The Great Mother in which he posits that mothers and women are an overarching archetype subsuming all the other archetypes, and in that book he takes every scrap of mythological material he finds and interprets it as mother – the Great Mother.

Then there’s the one Peterson refers to The Origins and History of Consciousness – in which Neumann states bald faced that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, an outrageous put-on that was nicely debunked by Archetypal Psychologist Wolfgang Giegerich’s essay entitled Ontogeny = Phylogeny? A Fundamental Critique of Erich Neumann’s Analytical Psychology.

There are other conceptual issues in classical Jungianism, such as the restatement of traditional gender-roles that accumulated under Jung’s descriptions of Animus and Amima which divides an enormous amount of psychological phenomena into strictly masculine and feminine boxes, and applies those boxes to real men and women. Add to that what classical Jungian’s call “the Feminine” – a big basket of bloated gynocentric concepts (eg. that Eros and all the other treasured psychological phenomena are feminine, and all the oppressive, violent and cold intellectual stuff is ‘the Masculine’) – all of which leaves us with a bunch of false stereotypes instead of what we might call phenomenological archetypes.

Then we have the classical concept of archetype, which utterly falls the test of logic with its reference to a noumenal archetype per se vs. the phenomenally presented archetype. The fact is we can only refer to the phenomenal archetype, that which manifests itself in images. The “noumenal” archetype per se cannot by definition be presented so that nothing whatsoever can be posited of it. In fact whatever one does say about the archetype per se is a conjecture already governed by an archetypal image. This means that the archetypal image precedes and determines the metaphysical hypothesis of a noumenal archetype. So, let us apply Occam’s razor to Kant’s noumenon. By stripping away this unnecessary theoretical encumbrance to Jung’s notion of archetype we restore full value to the archetypal image.’ (Hillman 1971).

Listen to Peterson try and define what an archetype is here, and note his nervous leg and difficulty in describing what it is – eventually conceding it is a “fuzzy word”: https://youtu.be/NOzjfqO6-K8?t=1h49m27s

One of the things that makes the notion of archetype fuzzy is the classical Jungian claim that some things are archetypal whilst other things are not archetypal – which is a cause of great confusion. A better way to conceptualize archetype is that any and all images can be considered archetypal, which does away with the artificial dividing of those images which are, and those which are not archetypal. The following from James Hillman captures this approach:

Any image can be considered archetypal. The word “archetypal” … rather than pointing at something archetypal, points to something, and that is value. By archetypal psychology we mean a psychology of value… Archetypal here refers to a move one makes rather than a thing that is.

Emphasizing the valuative function of the adjective “archetypal” restores to images their primordial place as that which gives psychic value to the world. Any image termed “archetypal” is immediately valued as universal, transhistorical, basically profound, generative, highly intentional, and necessary. [Archetypal Psychology]

If we use the more precise definition of archetype as a valuative approach toward all images then it is not fuzzy at all.

All of that said, I still highly value Jung (I have his collected works and read many times) and post-jungian writers, but Occam’s razor is needed so as not to lead people with flawed conceptual maps – especially by Peterson who uses classical Jungian frameworks to reach a big audience. He would do well to brush up on more rigorous Jungian thinkers like those from the so-called Archetypal Psychology school.

I could go on critiquing classical Jungian concepts – which informs Peterson’s views of history, psychology, gender relations and religion – but I’ll leave it there. I actually like a lot of what Peterson is saying and doing, including his hypomanic style of presentation which is really engaging, so I’m a fan…. but not a fan in the style of his younger students who seem to be worshiping him as a modern day Jung…… which is not far off the mark. I guess people need someone to look up to, and they could do a lot worse than Jordan Peterson.

Peterson is doing some valuable work in reviving the importance of imagination, religious frameworks, and unpacking postmodernism and the huge problems it has unleashed on human cultures. For that we can be thankful.

Sadomasochism and courtly love

The following excerpt, translated from the French title The Meaning of desire – sado-masochism and Courtly Love by Emmanuel-Juste Duits, explores the considerable overlap between sadomasochism and courtly love. If anyone has a better translation please feel free to submit it.

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Sadomasochistic dominatrix and courtly dominatrix

Wearing leathers, her long black hair tied by a braid, her legs sheathed, hard and inquisitive glance, surrounded by the colors of the night, this image is represented by the dominatrix.

What common features would she have with the ‘courtly lady,’ of a gentle and wise appearance, with a high hat surmounted by a veil, hidden by her long robe embroidered with pink and turquoise hues?

Imageries opposed, or similar realities?

In courtly love and SM it is easy to see the similarity of the terms used, symbolic gestures, and even certain practices. The dominatrix officiates in a “dungeon,” a space furnished with the often Gothic character where arched windows open, with walls of stone, impressive chains, iron doors. She receives servants and, just as in courtly love, the classical sexual act is just out of reach. Inaccessibility and distance are law.

But let us begin with the trait which gives its title to these two queens: domina /dominatrix. Why ? By their haughty character and magical power (mana), they dominate man who readily recognizes himself as a vassal. The first troubadour, Guillaume IX, one of the most powerful lords of the kingdom, called himself a vassal of his lady. The domnei (the chivalrous male lover) is admitted during a kneeling ceremony where he receives a ring as a pledge of fidelity and absolute obedience.

It thus becomes a genuine act of serving (in the medieval sense), ironically reversing the older chivalrous act of force and instituting a new male submission by the Middle Ages! But what does female domination sung by the minstrels consist of? What does this word hide, far beyond a capricious will and the arbitrariness of desires?  It is evident that the courtly lady develops moral and intellectual qualities which are far from evoking sadism and the violence unleashed by tyrannical instincts. She is supposed to be cheerful, welcoming, and witty. This may also be appropriate, in some respects, to the real dominatrix who demonstrates self-control and respect for her subjects.

What is the fascinating virtue that invests the feudal overlord (suzerain)?

Patriarchal societies advocate a so-called “natural” order which contains a set of coherent values, which are linked together and enslave us to the family, to a warrior and vengeful God, to the father, to the country, and to the enterprise. And also a supposedly natural place is there attributed to woman. According to this perspective woman is passive in essence, which is expressed in her sexual posture but also in her “intuitive and receptive” mind and in her social role which consists of the conservation of society and the exclusive breeding of children in the tradition. How all this goes together!

But the domina, however, has enough inner strength to overthrow this aesthetic prescription. Only against the inertia of a medieval society imbued with manly values – ​​or against a modern society that insidiously demeans it – does it come to the fore and assert itself as sexually and mentally active. Whether it is the “black” domina of SM or the “white” domina of the courtly love, it escapes the function devoted to women “by nature and by God”. Neither mother, nor good wife, nor receptacle of penetration. Neither soft nor fragile, nor manipulative, demanding, and tyrannical.

Today’s society spreads the image of such free, strong and unleashed women, as if a new femininity was dreaming on the fringes of our collective consciousness. In the teenage version, these are the Spice Girls and the Amazons in Hard Rock Leather, or Catwoman and other practitioners of the martial arts. Ideal for millions of girls who, for now, do not seem to assume this girl’s power. Moreover, what should such a slogan hide to be truly revolutionary? The modern woman risks confusing liberation, especially a positive but limited external one, with psychological, erotic and spiritual liberation.

[……..]

[It] has the merit of showing the radical difference between the purely material independence of the wonder-woman serving a social function, and dominating it, which rejects most norms of productive and sexual “utility.” The true dominatrix fascinates not by her brutality nor by her sadism, but by her intellectual, erotic and aesthetic autonomy. She sculpts and invents her own norms, and attributes to herself the decision and the action – without necessarily denying them to men, even if a fundamentally amorphous character would characterize it, according to the founder of Scum.

This interior and mental power constitutes the focal point of our two figures of dominas. They are also cruel. When Lancelot returns from a thousand sufferings, his body broken and his wounds exposed, Guinevere pretends to reject him because he hesitated for a few moments before one of his most mortal trials. At their reunion, these adulterous lovers of the Arthurian cycle finally spend a night of love and their sheets are covered with the blood of the knight who cut a finger by forcing open the grid that separated him from his mistress … Thus, the courtly eroticism has sometimes taken a cruel turn. Guillaume IX, the first troubadour, tells a very edifying story. Disguised as an innocent clerk, the hero of the song crosses two noble ladies, married moreover, who find him to their taste and collect him in their lodgings. He pretends to be mute. Here is what Agnes says to Ermessen:

“We have found what we are seeking. My sister, for the sake of God let us lodge him, for he is truly mute and never by our plan will be known. So the hero finds himself in the ladies company, fed capons near the stove, thinking “When we had drunk and eaten, I stole myself as they pleased. Behind my back they brought me the wicked cat and felon; One pulled him along my side to the heel dragged by the tail without waiting. She pulled the cat and he clawed at me: they made me more than one hundred wounds.” Agnes to Ermessen, “Sister, he is mute, it is veryclear; let us prepare for the bath and take advantage of his presence.” “Eight days and more I remained in this furnace. I took them as many times as you will hear: One hundred and eighty-eight times (…) I cannot tell you my pain at all.”

We shall not count all the courtly songs in which the lady finds herself cruel, pitiless, capricious, mocking, and in which the poet seems to delight in suffering inflicted by the woman whom he adores. Lancelot, the best of knights, will have to suffer public humiliation: to obey his queen Guenièvre, he will behave cowardly in the biggest tournament of the country for a whole day, wiping away the least gossip and taunts of the least grooms, and weak riders. Like Sacher-Masoch, loving implies accepting suffering, which is the pledge of true love.

Courtly love – a precursor of SM?

If the dominatrix inflicts suffering, the courtly lady also submits her servant to various trials: show her valor in the tournament if it is a knight, restrain your primary sexual desires, sing, make beautiful verses, respect the Secret, take many risks to stealthily observe her when she strips herself and goes to the bath, traveling alone and undergoing severe deprivations to increase its valor

In SM as in courtly love, one recognizes the classical scheme of the work in the dark, the ego being worked over by the confrontation with his fears, the tests involving a physical or moral danger. According to Jung, this phase is to be found in any evolutionary process, whether it be therapy or alchemy, the “matter” of the soul is to be tarnished and then melted with some violence.

To learn to be silent, to wait and to hold one’s desires, to wander, to feel alone, to suffer in one’s flesh, to enjoy only a few caresses and many blows, all this seems necessary to those who wish to acquire a little individuality! But to fulfill this individualizing function, the tests must have a profound meaning: they correspond in particular to the meeting of elements (tests linked to water, fire, earth, air – suspension, vertigo …), (Black, silence, abandonment, dismemberment, suffocation …), the overthrow of social values ​​and the image of oneself (one finds in this class of the transvestite, the inversion of roles, the boss playing the slave … ).

Once encountered, trials need to be understood in order to integrate into one’s person: hence the role of the possible therapist and verbalization, and the need to know symbolism. By his poetic asceticism, the knight-troubadour will attain, as the initiate, a modified state of consciousness. Is this not what many songs testify to? Raimbaut d’Orange (1147-1173) has no suspicion of being taken for mad when he evokes this internal metamorphosis:

“Here is the opposite flower on the rocks among the mounds.
Flower of snow, ice and jellies,

Who bites, who tightens and slings. (…)
For in me all is reversed,

And the plains seem to me mound,
The flower springs from the frost,

The hot in the flesh of the cold slice,
The storm becomes singing and whistles

And the leaves cover the stems.
So glad I am that I do not seem to be baseless in any place. ”

Within the middle classes of our society, the possible dangers are fortunately more limited than in the twelfth century. The brigands swarm less than in the medieval forests, and the suburbs do not compete with the court of miracles, in spite of our “savages.” The voyages are made in the warmth of the TGV, and do not allow us to appreciate either the dark night of the great forests, nor the disturbing howling of the animals, the bite of the cold, or the warmth of the horse. We are impoverished in “real” feelings, far from a formative confrontation with reality.

Apart from a few medical examinations and the pitiless irruption of the illness, which reminds us of the essential realities, we float in a rather abstract universe of social appearances. Some prefer to tear the veil and seek the meeting of elements by practicing sports, mountaineering, hang-gliding, diving … others find the ardor and ethics of combat by the martial arts. Finally, the sadomasochist makes it possible to taste somewhat forgotten sensations, and to return to reports that are both more refined and rough, perhaps more true and symbolic than what we experience under our social masks.

Thus the trials demanded by courtly love presented themselves in a less bloody light than in SM because medieval society itself had enough risks and dangers. Obviously, the excretory aspect that can be associated with SM – uro and scatophily – remains totally foreign to the courtly universe. The courtly love demands lose in intensity what they gain in extent. They involve a global character: the aim is to seek constant improvement and to modify one’s behavior on a daily basis.

The sadomasochistic game, for good reason, tends to unfold in a delimited field, with its instruments, its world, its well-defined witnesses . Once the session is over, the adept risks becoming a citizen again, sometimes an excellent cog in the company, an efficient executive or a faithful husband. SM is generally compatible with

Standards of liberalism; Once again, it resembles a therapy, with similar advantages and disadvantages: falling from anxiety and better adaptation to the business or family!

If it is true that the DM allows for some improvement of self, it does not push to fight for political justice. On the other hand, courtly love is in conflict with social integration. Many poems of troubadours could be discovered chanting a dispute of the religious or political order, especially from the Albigensian crusade. Bernart de Rovenac (1242-1261) accuses the lords (“I have a great desire to make a sirventès, powerful and cowardly men … although it seems madness to you, I am more pleased to blame you by telling you the truth –  that is to say, pleasant things while lying … “); Guilhem Figuera (1215-1240) attacks the Church (“(…) Deceitful Rome, who are from all evil the guide, top and root, so that the good king of England was betrayed by you … Rome Rome, to weak men, you eat away the flesh and the bones and guide the blind with you into the pit … “). As for Peire Cardenal, he addresses a very insolent petition to the creator:

“A new sirventes I want to begin
that I will recite on the Day of Judgment to him
who created me and formed of nothing
If he thinks I am reproaching myself for something …
and I will make a good proposal
that you bring me back from where I left on the first day
or that you forgive my sins
because I would not have committed them if I was not born (…) ”

Courtesy requires politeness, generosity, hence refusal of injustice. The appearance is beautiful only if the inner life strives towards the ideal. As an alchemist can succeed in the Great Work only if, in addition to his technical competence, he possesses moral qualities, so a troubadour is worthy of love only if, in addition to beautiful verses, he succeeds a few great gestures. The knight must correct the wrongs and fight against errors, false pretenses, both in and around the world. Here we find the socially subversive aspect of courtly love.

The difference is therefore essential between sadomasochism and courtly love. The domnei pursued a high, almost superhuman ideal, symbolized by the Grail and the Crusade, or by a state of poetic and mystical creation. The pain was on the way an inevitable companion, but it was not a goal, and was not inflicted “for pleasure.” The artist who has to struggle to perfect his creation and the knight who crosses distant lands

necessarily confront a thousand sufferings. They aim at a result and a work that transcends their individuality and can be offered to others. Their project is both personal and altruistic.

The courtly scene assumed its full meaning when it was accompanied by an effective verification of the acts and creations of its various protagonists. Despite the physical distance, it involved a mutual “surveillance”, by interposed reputation. A noble knight, a renowned lady or a well-liked troubadour were supposed to perform actions and works of brilliance, worthy of being reverberated from castles in progress. It was a question of the two lovers fighting against social and psychological baseness, of integrating the elements and the many facets of the human soul (masculine-feminine, hardness-softness, dependence-independence …), and finally to dis-identify from the social comedy.

In some respects, one might compare the gradual initiation of courtliness with that of master-disciple in the secret schools of the East. In courtly love as in esoteric schools, the meaning of these various tests, in addition to the magical integration of the elements, will be to find one’s true being. It is only after this work of inner self-esteem that authentic encounter with love is possible. There is no other way to isolate the essential love – that which is addressed to the whole person of the beloved, to her soul, if you will – to eliminate all that is addressed to what this person is not, that is to say, synonymous with his physical details.

And there can be no lovers of joy absolutely purified other than this desire which is exalted and satisfied with the mere presence of the beloved, the only feeling of the spiritual communion existing between her and him and whose embrace of looks is indeed the sign. Courtly love, like evolutionary SM, a complete loving path, with its own rituals and a form of pleasure, is quite different from the so-called “normal” sexual games.

These approaches prove that love and the couple can give themselves an end in addition (or beside) to procreation. They draw attention to one aspect of love relations, particularly revolutionary for the current mentality: the incandescence of pleasure achieved without recourse to the sexual act.

Today, when the classical aspect of sexuality is over-emphasized in relation to sensuality and erotic play, this will surprise. It would no doubt be necessary to recall in our “liberated” period a reality: relationships other than penetration are possible and satisfying, even for straight men! Courteous love like the SM invites us to question the distinction between the sensual and the sexual, and the new forms of relationships open to us. But what precisely was the love of courtly love, and where did it come from? We shall see that it remains a historical enigma.